Hi gang, and a belated Happy New Year. I hope your 2017 is a good one, and if you made New Years resolutions, I hope they all come to fruition.
I hope your New Year's Eve revelry was better than Mariah Carey's. My goodness. If it was as messed up, hopefully you could at least wake up the next morning and laugh about it through the dry mouth and headache, and hope no one filmed it. Me? I was on vacation in Napa, and was so tired I was asleep by 10:30. As to resolutions, I resolve to eat more chocolate chip cookies.
Keep your goals attainable, kids.
Our favorite football team, the Minnesota Vikings, hopefully made some resolutions too, because there are some thing they need to do to get better in 2017. Let's take a look at some of them, shall we?
Make the offensive line great again. Serious question here--when was the last time the Vikings had a really good o-line? I want to say 2009, but that line had issues a rejuvenated Brett Favre masked, and they were laid bare in 2010. 2008 was pretty decent, and before that? Maybe the late 90's and 2000.
GM Rick Spielman did address the offensive line talent and depth last off-season, but it was a plan that in retrospect, was set up to fail. Part of the plan was assuming both Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan would return from injury. It was a risky foundation to set on, and it started cracking before training camp, when Loadholt announced his retirement. But in Spielman's defense, he made two mid-level signings in G Alex Boone and T Andre Smith. Boone was solid if unspectacular, but Smith was shaky, then went on IR early in the season, as did LT Matt Kalil.
What I can't fault Spielman for is the injuries. Every single offensive lineman missed at least two games, and at times the Vikings were playing with two or three third string guys at the same time. In today's NFL you have to plan for injuries; what happened to the Vikings offensive line in 2016 can only be endured until it's over.
Thankfully, it's over.
Going forward, the bulk of the off-season needs to be focused on scouting and signing good offensive linemen. Looking at the original starters from 2016, the only guys I'm comfortable with to return as starters in 2017 are Boone and Joe Berger. I thought some of the backups, like Nick Easton, Jeremiah Sirles, and Rashod Hill, played well enough to compete for a starting job in training camp. As for the rest...if they're not brought back, I'll be okay with that. It remains to be seen who will be available in free agency, but one name that keeps popping up is Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals. He would be good for a season or two, but he's 34, so the Vikings will still need to look to the draft, or younger options in free agency. Preferably both.
Get enough cap space to have the ability to get the players they need and want. The 2017 salary cap is projected to be anywhere from $166-170 million, which is about $10 million more than 2016. According to Spotrac, right now the Vikings have $23 million in cap space when you take into consideration the projected cap increase and free agents that aren't under contract for 2017. That bumps up to $41 million if you remove Adrian Peterson's contract. There's no way he comes back at that price, but coming back at a much lower number isn't out of the question. Shariff Floyd will be due $6.75 million, and I can easily see a scenario where the Vikings release him. You get the feeling that Mike Zimmer isn't happy with Floyd's lingering injuries, and with the defensive line playing well without him, it's not like there would be a huge drop off in overall play if he didn't return.
That's $48 million, which gives the Vikings enough flexibility to sign free agents their own free agents, like Cordarrelle Patterson and Captain Munnerlyn, pursue quality guys in free agency, and still have enough room to sign their draft picks.
Overhaul the running game. The Vikings running game was the worst in the NFL, worst in franchise history, and it's got to get better next year. A lot of the overhaul will come with revamping the offensive line, which we've already talked about. But just below that in priority, the Vikings will need to decide a few things.
For one, is Adrian Peterson worth bringing back? If so, at what price? $18 million isn't happening for a 32 year old running back that's missed 13 games in 2016. Peterson has said he's open to renegotiating his contract...but is there a price that both him and the Vikings can agree on?
But Peterson isn't the only issue the Vikings need to figure out. What's Jerick McKinnon's role with the team moving forward? Is he an every down back? I thought he might be in 2014, but he didn't prove up to the job in 2016. Neither did Matt Asiata, but in fairness to him, I don't think anyone sees him as a feature back, except, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Asiata. I think Asiata still has value to the team, and is actually a decent short yardage back if the offensive line isn't a collector's edition set of subway turnstiles.
But even if Peterson returns, and that's far from given, the Vikings have a fair amount of work to do in the backfield. Can McKinnon increase production and someday be a lead back, or is his ceiling a guy that is part of a running back by committee? Regardless of the answer, The Guy After Peterson needs to be found, whether it's through free agency or the draft, and it has to be decided if that guy is going to complement McKinnon in a backfield that McKinnon leads, will be a bell cow that McKinnon complements, or something else entirely.
As bad as the offensive line was this year, I'm open to give McKinnon another opportunity to showcase his talent in 2016, and get a guy that complements him in the short term. Fix the line, and it doesn't really matter what the roles are for the backs in 2017, because the assumption is that there will be talent there.
The Vikings have a lot of talent, but also have some work to do to get past the accursed Packers. These would be three really good steps.